Student Government decides against referendum supporting $4 fee increase


Sarah Henry/Iowa State Daily

Speaker Zoey Shipley listens during a Student Government meeting on Nov. 29 at the Memorial Union. 

Alex Connor

Student Government held a lengthy debate Wednesday evening where the Senate ultimately decided to vote against putting a poll on the election gauging whether or not students would like a $4 student activity fee increase. 

Currently, all students pay a mandatory fee of $331.95 that goes toward student services, building costs and recreation opportunities.

As it has been for several years, the student activity fee portion of that amount is $36.75, of which the funds go toward Student Government to later be allocated by the organization to campus initiatives and student groups. 

The Senate was considering asking students how they would feel about a possible increase as there hasn’t been one since 2013 despite increased student enrollment and campus organizations. 

Finance Director Steven Valentino said that if a $4 increase were to be approved, it would add approximately $140,000 to the budget.

“I’m looking more to fund the stability of what we normally do,” he said. 

The process for getting a student fee increase approved, however, is much more complex than putting it on the ballot as a referendum. A fee increase must be approved by the Special Student Fee and Tuition Committee, President Wendy Wintersteen and the Iowa Board of Regents.

Should the $4 increase have been considered by all parties and approved, it wouldn’t have gone into effect until fall 2019. 

However, many senators disagreed on the merits of the increase and were concerned that if they put that responsibility in the hands of the students they would vote ‘no’ automatically after seeing the word “increase.”

Sen. Isaiah Baker, who helped open the discussion on the referendum, said he  believes the students may not be fully equipped to make an informed decision about an increase and that it is the responsibility of the Senate to accurately represent one’s constituents wants and needs. 

Others, however, such as Vice Speaker Cody Woodruff, felt that it is the right of the student to be able to vote on the increase. 

“It’s the student’s right, not privilege, to vote on this on the upcoming ballot,” he said. 

While many arguments were presented during the debate, such as Sen. Kathryn Neilson who offered that if the student’s vote ‘no’ they are comfortable with Student Government possibly having to cut back funding rates. 

A large portion of the debate was also centered on the specific phrasing of the question and how it should the referendum can best be presented with students to be informed with their vote. 

Ultimately, the Senate voted 16-11-1, but the referendum was not approved because it did not reach a two-thirds majority. 

Woodruff motioned to reconsider the bill, in which Speaker Zoey Shipley urged the Senate to take advantage of the opportunity. 

“Right now, it is the student’s opinion on whether they think that we should have a fee,” she said. “If they want to keep having events like concerts, SUB, ISU After Dark, a whole bunch of stuff that you have seen this year, then we need to take this opportunity at least for the student’s to vote yes or no.” 

Sen. Sam Rankin, however, questioned the ethics of the referendum after several senators also said that the fee increase could be used as a way to increase voter turnout.

“If having this on the ballot is a point to encourage voter turnout or is it [to get] genuine responses and gauge an accurate interest,” he said. “I question almost our motive if there is a ‘yes’ vote on this. It seems like people just want to put it on there to say ‘oh we did it’ and not necessarily gauge an accurate interest.” 

The Senate voted against the referendum after nearly two hours of debate. 

Correction: The original version of the article incorrectly spelled Sen. Kathryn Neilson’s name. The story has been updated to reflect the proper spelling.